Sunday, February 23, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 72, "Super DuckTales, Part Two: Frozen Assets"

"Frozen Assets" my ass...ets!  This episode should have been called "Lo, A Gizmoduck Cometh," or something similar.  That seems far more appropriate for a production featuring the debut of a high-powered, famously histrionic superhero. 

Jymn Magon may have supplied the teleplay for this effort, but the fingerprints of Ken Koonce and David Weimers are all over the narrative.  They play up the obvious borrowings from the live-action Robocop (1987) to the hilt and (in what will become something of a trend-setter for them) may even have swiped from themselves, turning several key portions of the story into what seem for all the world like semi-homages to their first-season classic, "Hero for Hire."  Basically a giant series of set-pieces -- the Ducks' recovery of Scrooge's "cash-flown" funds, Fenton's increasingly desperate attempts to retrieve Old #1 from the Beagle Boys, Fenton's inadvertent accession to the Gizmosuit, and Gizmo's ultimate recovery of Scrooge's cherished coin -- the ep isn't a storytelling masterwork by any means, but it gets its job done in workmanlike fashion.  It also lays to rest any lingering doubts that, in joining the main cast, Fenton/Gizmo has permanently altered the humor dynamic of the series.

The last, lingering bits of borrowing from Carl Barks' "Only a Poor Old Man" are quickly dispensed with in the opening scene, in which we learn that the Beagles have planted sandbags so that Scrooge's cash will wind up in Ma Beagle's yard.  The Beagles pursue the draining dough in the same jalopy that they used to try to escape from Launchpad at the climax of "Hero for Hire"; the rattletrap vehicle will be put to similar chase-related use in this ep before too long.  "Dripping dunderhead" Fenton (so saith Duckworth, making his first truly significant contribution to either of the second-season five-parters) returns to Scrooge's "Worry Room," there to display his continuing literal-mindedness... and to give Scrooge the notion that will salvage the latter's fortune.  I suppose that Fenton's inadvertent "ray of brilliance" was the only reason that kept him from getting fired immediately.  Scrooge's slight delay in pulling the trigger actually displayed more understanding and patience than I would normally have expected from him under the circs.  Then again, Scrooge took the possession of the Money Bin by the Beagles in "Bubba Trubba" surprisingly well, so perhaps this is yet another manifestation of the "kindler and gentler" nature of the DuckTales version of the patriarch.

Koonce and Weimers' gift for media parody serves them well during "Operation Ice Tongs," as they directly reference the famous Ride of the Valkyries helicopter-assault scene in Apocalypse Now (1979).  Actually, this is one or two levels of "awesome" higher than K&W's usual resort to such popular parodic targets as The Wizard of Oz (1939).  It ranks right up there with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic's insertion of a Big Lebowski (1998) reference into the episode "The Cutie Pox." Not even the later reuse of the notion in a comparatively trivial scene with Magica and the Quackanyeeka Yeekers in "The Unbreakable Bin" can spoil the poetry of the original moment.  By the bye, Greg, Fenton can be seen flying on the giant ice cake with Scrooge and HD&L, so he certainly wasn't forsaken here.

Alas, Fenton proceeds to piss away all the good will he'd just banked with his employer by spending Old #1 on an "emergency phone call"... and, here, I'm going to take exception with GeoX's claim that this mistake is another display of "excessive dumbness" on Fenton's part.  Given Fenton's already-well-established literal-mindedness, it's certainly in character for Fenton to think that the dime had been isolated from its brethren for some "special purpose."  Granted, he certainly ought to have checked with (for example) HD&L to determine what that "special purpose" WAS, but I'm willing to give K&W credit for laying sufficient groundwork for this gag to "work."  And "work" it certainly does; I can recall howling with laughter when I first saw it.  My (then) ongoing education in Barks' works was partially to blame for this; the gag took all those notions I had built up in my head about the immense psychological significance of Old #1 for Scrooge and rudely chucked them out the window.

It'd be a fun chore to try to explain the pay-phone and phone-company-HQ scenes to someone raised in the age of cell phones.  I suppose that pay phones can still be found fairly easily, but, unless you explained that Kathleen Freeman was parodying the over-exaggerated tones of a live operator in her voice for the desk lady, then the young modern viewer would probably assume that the poor woman had some sort of bizarre speech impediment.

More "Hero for Hire" callbacks follow as "The First Interfeather Bank" turns out to be one of the banks that "Webbed Wonder" Launchpad robbed.  Also note the reappearance of the armored truck that LP and Doofus used to escape Ma Beagle's place at the end of that earlier episode.  Like the "Wagner-copter sequence," these "small details" will also be returning in future eps.

Speaking of callbacks, of the really, REALLY classic variety... Welcome to Acme Acres, the Southwestern American desert, the Warner Bros. Studio lot, or some combination thereof!  Fenton's failed dime-recovery schemes already seemed like a lengthy homage to a certain genre of WB cartoon BEFORE the decision was made to change his "post-first-failure" comment from "Okay, so they're looking for a skirmish!" to "Of course you know this means a skirmish!".  Or perhaps, as suggested by kenisu in his comments on my review of "Liquid Assets," the more obvious Warners homage was the original statement, and it was altered for NBC broadcast because Warners would be more likely to get wind of it there.  I don't know; since the syndicated version of the ep was the one that was repeated over and over, one would think that WDTVA would want to play it safer with that one.  Whatever the truth might be, one can legitimately question Fenton's use of this particular phrase.  "You know this means war!" is indelibly associated with Bugs Bunny, the epitome of coolness under exaggerated fire, whereas Fenton is... well, not quite the exact opposite, but reasonably close.

(You were expecting a scene from some other Bugs cartoon, Joe?)

The censors also had a snip at this sequence when candy-machine Fenton's reaction to an assault by Ma Beagle -- "Right in the goobers!" -- was removed for Toon Disney broadcast.  The truly peculiar thing about this line was that it was also absent in the Magical World of Disney broadcast (I suspect that 1989-era rules about "family prime-time content" were involved in this excision) but WAS included in the initial syndicated broadcasts. Since kids formed a high percentage of the viewership in both the syndicated and Toon Disney cases, why would the line have passed muster for so long, only to be jettisoned later?  Was there a gun involved in this scene that nobody noticed?
Despite these annoying alterations, the coin-seeking debacle remains an entertaining little diversion, and a significant moment for the show as a whole.  After Fenton is allowed to get away with using his goofy get-ups in his attempts to fool the Beagles, there's no turning back; Warners-style humor will now be an acceptable part of the series as long as Fenton is involved.  It won't often be as off-the-wall as it is here, but it is now officially part of the series' creative "toolbox."

Gyro's creation of the "GICU2" guardian robot -- which goes just as well as might be expected, given the inventor's spotty series track record -- sets the Robocop portion of the episode in motion with a vengeance.  The "GICU2" mutters mechanical dialogue that is based squarely on the live-action film's "ED-209" (e.g., "You have five seconds to leave the premises" vs. "You have 15 seconds to comply") and even provides a bonus by displaying the morphing capabilities of a Transformer.  At one time, I thought that relying so heavily on material from a then-popular movie would cause "Super DuckTales" to date rather quickly.  As things turned out, between the ongoing series of live-action Transformers films and the recently-released Robocop remake, the Robocop aspects of "SDT" are aging with unexpected grace.  Lawrence Loudmouth and "MEL" should have been so lucky.

The badly-beaten Fenton's offhand use of an expletive that "nobody uses" turns out to be the only reason why he becomes the master of the Gizmosuit (which will forever betray its original moniker thanks to the retention of the stylized "R" on the breastplate).  Actually, Gyro's definition of blatherskite as "foolishness" only tells half of the story; the word can be used to describe a foolish person, as well.  Fenton isn't foolish all the time, of course, but here the notion, as well as his literal-mindedness, redounds to his benefit; a "fool" attains superhero status by literally saying a word meaning "fool" or "foolish."  It's as if the word Shazam! literally did mean "big red cheese."

Gizmoduck rolls up to Ma Beagle's house just as the mistress of the place is pitching her latest fit at the loss of Scrooge's fortune.  One of the less noticeable, but nonetheless important, subthemes of "SDT" is the implied contrast between the Ma/Beagles and Fenton/Mrs. Crackshell relationships.  In both instances, the children are doing their best to please parents who are, to say the least, less than wholeheartedly appreciative of their efforts.  The DT Beagles may be crooks and bumblers, but the whole plot of the serial was set in motion by their desire to give their Ma a fitting birthday present.  It was a nice touch to permit the villains, as well as the good guys, to participate in such a family dynamic.  (It's also impressive in view of the fact that Ma has a track record of abandoning her boys in time of need.  See "Robot Robbers.") 

The climactic chase routine plays out as the climax of "Hero for Hire" in reverse, with Gizmoduck chasing the Beagles' jalopy.  Some halfway-decent gags are strewn along the route, such as the Beagles' rough ride down the hotel hallway and the still-inexperienced Gizmoduck's frantic efforts to locate the directions for his "helmet-copter."  (It does seem a bit awkward for the user of the Gizmosuit to have to carry around that big instruction manual.  If "SDT" were produced today, the manual would almost certainly be digitized and made accessible inside or on the suit itself.)  The final business at "Mickey-D's," or "Oswald-O's," or whatever the heck it is strikes me as painfully contrived now, but in a good way.  It's the first time that the "feeble-headed" Fenton has consciously used his brains to score a success and suggests that coming into possession of the Gizmosuit may be a tonic for the mallard's shaky self-confidence.  The only question is, what will happen to this new mojo if and when Fenton loses control of his newfound powers and has to rely on his own abilities?
Overall, "Frozen Assets" rates a thumbs-up despite the ever-increasing instances of Cartoon Duck Syndrome (thanks, Greg).  As a stand-alone, it certainly doesn't rank with "Time is Money"'s "The Duck Who Would Be King," but, given that, unlike "King," it's very much a piece of an overarching narrative, it winds up contributing more to its serial.  At this point, of course, "Time is Money" pretty much went off the rails.  Will "Super DuckTales" suffer the same fate?




Bumper #7: "Gorilla"




(GeoX) "Frozen Assets" is nicely congruent with last episode's title. I wish they could continue this "assets" theme, but alas, 'tis not to be. Not that I really can think of any more "assets" phrases that would be of use...

Well, Fenton certainly got pounded by the Beagles here, so could we get away with "Compounded Assets" at some point?...  I didn't think so. 

(GeoX) Now, Fenton's efforts to get the dime back ARE fairly amusing, especially when he pretends to be "Bermuda Beagle" and tries to infiltrate the family, and Ma Beagle has to flip through the photo album to verify whether or not she has a son named "Bermuda" (again with the lame disguises that work). The problem I have, though, is that...well, Warner Bros cartoons can be highly entertaining, but the characters don't have the emotional range or depth that the best Disney characters do, do they? So if that's the way it's gonna be with Fenton from now on, he's going to be a decidedly limited character.

Thankfully, the series didn't make that mistake.  Fenton isn't the deepest character ever invented, but, by the time DuckTales is over, he will have flashed enough complexity to (IMHO, at least) merit symbolic inclusion as a worthy member of the "Duck Gang." 

(GeoX) Seriously, the kids are toting Scrooge's cash back to the bin one coin at a time? Come on, now! 

From the evidence provided, they had hacked out the vast majority of Scrooge's fortune by this time and were just picking out the hard-to-reach coins and bills.  It still does seem somewhat inefficient to take one coin per trip, though.  Louie's wish that the Money Bin were "in a valley" also seems strange, since he would still have to make one uphill trip and one downhill trip to go to the Bin and back under such circs. 

(Greg) And in comes a sulking Fenton Crackshell dripping like a dunderhead. Fenton pleads for an explanation to his actions before he gets kicked in the ass back to Boston.

Why not "Barkston"?  It would have been SO easy, Jymn... 

(Greg) Bankjob [actually, Baggy] is buried in gold coins (still wearing his regular outfit minus the shoes) as Big Time is building a sandcastle which is made of..sand? Doesn't that kill the CONTINUITY the writers were shooting for?

No.  Big Time was merely decorating a "real" sand castle with coins.  Since the "cash flow" didn't include gold dust -- at least, none of which I am aware -- this seems like a logical extension of the "rich beach" idea.

(Greg) Scrooge throws the phone down and orders it back or he is fired as a gunshot goes off on Fenton's side of the phone. I wonder if Toon Disney cut that one out?

They never did as far as I know.  So I'll give them credit for a bit of common sense.

(Greg) He didn't mean it as the electricity engulfs the entire suit and the armor force fits right on Fenton's chest. Fenton tries to force it off of him; but no dice as the rest of the suit dances around the room and force fits onto Fenton's arms and torso; followed by the helmet and unicycle as Fenton comments on being canned like a tuna. Funny spot: When he transforms fully; they actually SHOW a blue background with a can of tuna for a split second.

The tuna bit was not used in the NBC broadcast.  I suppose WDTVA figured it might freak people out.  (Weirding out kids in syndication, now that's another story...)  Also note that Fenton's yelps as he's being "canned" are recycled from the scene in "Liquid Assets" in which he's hanging onto Scrooge's desk for dear life.

(Greg) We then head to a Merry Go Round Hamburger Joint and...HOLY CRAP?! Those mascots holding the burger look like Oswald the Rabbit. Seriously! I know it's a moot point now; but this was 1989 for goodness sakes. I wondered how they got away with without Universal suing their asses. I doubt Toon Disney cut this out; but HOLY CRAP! 

WDTVA did go right up to the proverbial "line" here, didn't they?  Though more so with Mickey than with Oswald, I deem.  If Mickey had ever had a love child by Oswald's girlfriend, then this burger mascot might have been the result.  Given that the WDTVA of 1993 couldn't even bear to show or name Mickey (aka "The Mouse") in the Bonkers episode "I Oughta Be in Toons," I suppose that we should be grateful for that one clear, full-figure shot of the critter.

Next: Episode 73, "Super DuckTales, Part Three: Full Metal Duck."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #1 (IDW Publishing, January 2014)

I'm a little behind schedule when it comes to reviewing this first issue of the replacement title for IDW's MLP MICRO-SERIES, but it's all good.  After all, the subtitle itself claims that MLP:FF will be around...

To ensure such a happy, long-lived fate, however, the creative tag-teams who will presumably be taking turns on this book will have to up their game a bit.  "The Pie's the Limit!", the Applejack-Pinkie Pie joint that starts the title off, isn't quite a complete misstep, but it's definitely something of a disappointment.


The plot setup here is frankly mystifying; Applejack gets involved with the shenanigans at the "Equestria Super Chef Competition" simply by virtue of delivering an apple pie to the contest site, but we never find out for whom the pie was meant or why it was delivered in the first place.  It's basically just an excuse to get AJ mistaken for a half-crazed "food performance artist" (if such people exist, I hope they're confined to one municipality; my money's on San Francisco) who subsequently vows revenge.  Said revenge comes in the form of an "icing gun" that paralyzes all and sundry (including Twilight Sparkle -- yep, the powerful alicorn princess who has mastered all sorts of arcane magic and battled dragons, Lords of chaos, and giant worms is supposedly undone by flying fondant). Applejack is among the victims of the cruel confectionary charge, leaving Pinkie to save the day with the help of the girls' newfound friend, Toffee Truffle.  You would think that an issue devoted to a specific teamup would allow the team to, you know, cooperate in the successful resolution of the plot.

Though her plotting leaves a great deal to be desired, writer Alex De Campi does capture the personalities of AJ and Pinkie reasonably well and throws in the occasional good joke (an offhand Pinky and the Brain reference is particularly bracing when delivered by Pinkie).  Carla Speed McNeil goes the Colorforms route in terms of art -- all two-D characters and flat backgrounds -- and the end product looks more like an actual MLP episode than most of IDW's previous releases.  Nothing wrong with that, but I'm hoping for better storytelling and more intriguing teamups in future releases.  The upcoming issue teams the Cutie Mark Crusaders with Discord, who's never before been featured in the four-color forum.  Its quality will tell us a lot about where this title is going.   

Sunday, February 16, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 71, "Super DuckTales, Part One: Liquid Assets"

DuckTales may have lasted 100 episodes, but, when it comes to series events, there are only three that truly stand out.  The September 1987 two-hour syndicated premiere of "Treasure of the Golden Suns" and the theatrical feature DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990) are, of course, the two no-brainers.  NBC's The Magical World of Disney's March 26, 1989 broadcast of the two-hour "cut" of "Super DuckTales" qualifies as the third.

To be sure, the broadcast of "A DuckTales Valentine" in the same venue the following February also provided prime-time viewers with a peek at the series, but "SDT" was easily the more ambitious project, featuring as it did the debut of Fenton Crackshell and his alter ego Gizmoduck.  Several other cast members who would serve the second and third seasons of the show well also made their bows here, but, make no mistake, this was Fenton's showcase.  Thankfully, the bumbling-yet-enthusiastic accountant with the iron-plated alter ego was up to the challenge.  In sharp contrast to Bubba Duck, whose retention in the DT cast following the events of "Time is Money" was a bone of contention from the off, and despite a resume of subsequent comic-book appearances that is only slightly thicker than Bubba's, Fenton appears to have reached a certain level of general acceptance as a worthy addition to the stable of Duck characters.  "SDT" may arguably go on for a chapter too long, feature occasionally sloppy animation, and indulge freely in the sillier humor stylings of writers Ken Koonce and David Weimers' flimsier "late period," but it rarely fails to entertain.  Thanks to all the new cast additions, some highly unexpected rifling of Carl Barks' oeuvre, and a fair bit of subsequent editorial alteration courtesy of the good folks at Toon Disney, it also provides plenty of fodder for dedicated retrospectivists to nosh on.

Koonce and Weimers' imagination had short borders when it came to titling the five parts of the full version of the serial.  Using the somewhat banal "Super DuckTales" as an overarching title was perhaps understandable in view of the fact that headlining Fenton, Gizmoduck, or even Scrooge McDuck would have been an insufficient lure for the casual, channel-hopping prime-time audience looking for an Easter-night diversion.  But "Liquid Assets" and "Frozen Assets" as the titles of parts one and two?  Were K&W even trying here?  Couldn't Jymn Magon (who chipped in by writing the "Frozen Assets" teleplay) have suggested at least one reasonably clever Duck pun?  I am retroactively "disappoint."

When we first wrote about "SDT," Joe Torcivia and I termed it "the longest sustained Beagle [Boy] assault on Scrooge's money in history."  I suppose that it would still qualify, though the fact that the actual "assault" ends at the start of "Money to Burn," and that the Beagles play little more than a token role in that final chapter, does stick in the craw a bit more now than it used to.  The scheme might have been wrapped up even sooner had Ma Beagle -- in her first truly dominant role of the series (with respectful nods to her substantial contributions to "Robot Robbers" and "Hero for Hire") -- not seized the initiative from her buffoonish offspring after the original plan to force Scrooge to move the Money Bin near Ma's property and then to literally dynamite the building onto her front lawn had failed.  The Beagles wind up grabbing control (or something close to it) of Scrooge's Bin holdings not once but twice during the proceedings, only to lose out in the end.  Evidently, this adventure was considered to be the limit in terms of how far the Beagles could push a direct assault on Scrooge's cash.  The series' one remaining Beagle-takeover episode, "The Bride Wore Stripes," would involve legal subterfuge instead.

"Liquid Assets" is, of course, most notorious for its brazen swiping of numerous elements from the most significant Scrooge tale of them all, Barks' "Only a Poor Old Man."  In truth, though, I think that the borrowings from the comparatively obscure seven-page filler story "Migrating Millions" (UNCLE $CROOGE #15, September 1956), which begin almost immediately after the Beagles have revealed their plan, are even more remarkable.  "Poor Old Man," after all, has probably been read at some point by just about everyone who has an elementary interest in Scrooge and his development as a character.  "Millions," by contrast, had been reprinted only twice in America since its original appearance, and one of those reprintings was set three of the hardcover CARL BARKS LIBRARY.  Would you really expect the writers who treated "The Horseradish Story" with so little respect in "Down and Out in Duckburg" to dig THIS deeply into the Barks canon for a story element?  It would even seem to be something of a stretch for Magon.  My guess is that Gladstone Comics' reprinting of "Millions" in its very first issue of UNCLE $CROOGE (#210, October 1986) may have served as a trigger here.  I can easily believe Magon or someone else dipping into some of those early Gladstone issues for ideas and glomming onto the notion of a reluctant Scrooge being obliged to move his Bin over and over again due to the "march of progress" as a good springboard for a story.

In retrofitting Scrooge's peripatetic pelf-pushing to match the Beagles' single plan, K&W condense Scrooge's two meetings with unsympathetic city officials into a single encounter with Duckburg's Mayor.  The cartoon script is simpler than Barks' version, but the spirit, Scrooge's splenetic alternative suggestions (digging a tunnel, building a "colossal" bridge, and moving Duckburg), and even some of the staging (e.g., Scrooge jumping up on the desk to make his points), remain the same.  Given that Scrooge is not above threatening to use his influence -- remember how he presaged an eternity of KP for Admiral Grimitz if the latter didn't toe the line in "A Whale of a Bad Time" -- it may be a bit surprising that he doesn't lay the proverbial whip across the Mayor's posterior here.  Since Ma Beagle WILL do something similar when in control of Scrooge's fortune in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club," it is possible that K&W didn't want Scrooge to "look bad" by trying essentially the same tactic.  (Funny...  K&W didn't have any problem depicting Scrooge in the harshest of terms in "Down and Out.")

Scrooge's infrastructure-induced headache is severe enough to drive him into the "Worry Room" for the first time on-screen -- I DON'T THINK.  Granted, it's the first time that the "Room" is identified by name, not to mention the first time that we see the classic rut in the floor...

... but, judging by the appearance of the doors in the two scenes below, it's fairly clear that the bottom scene, from "Don't Give Up the Ship," was supposed to be the "Worry Room"'s debut.  In the intervening time, Scrooge must have (1) reupholstered the place and (2) experienced enough traumas to finally wear a sizable trench in the floor.  Having to deal with rambunctious young'uns and a crash-crazy pilot on a regular basis does have its drawbacks.

Fenton's initial scenes in the bean factory (which, no surprise, will ultimately be revealed in "Attack of the Metal Mites" to be owned by Scrooge) waste no time in laying down two of the most powerful drives that animate his surprisingly complex character -- his desire to become "somebody" and his yearning to impress Gandra Dee.  It's oh, so tempting to try to link Fenton's obsession with making a name for himself to all of those Barks stories in which Donald succeeds in mastering some skill, only to crash and burn thanks to carelessness or out-and-out hubris.  In truth, the similarities are not all that strong.  Donald's various episodes of "brittle mastery" focus on one specific skill at a time and usually feature Donald taking his mastery of the particular trade to absurd extremes, whereas Fenton's actual career goals are... well, rather vague.  He definitely wants to become a success in business, but it's never made clear that becoming an accountant, in particular, is his grand goal; any position that will help him "rise above the common duck" will do.  Just as Rarity seems more enamored with the idea of romance than with an attachment to a specific "other," Fenton cares more about the idea of success and the idea of earning "status" than he does the mechanics of actually getting and maintaining a specific position.  At least, such is the impression he gives in these first few scenes; one of the more understated themes of "SDT" is the extent to which Fenton gradually learns his version of the famed Spider-Man adage: "with great success [and, as Gizmoduck, power] comes great responsibility."

Just as Fenton, in his drive to the top, takes a different route than does Donald, so too does Fenton's infatuation with Gandra Dee seem rather unlike Don's on-again, off-again relationship with Daisy.  For one thing, the circumstances under which their exchanges take place are generally a heck of a lot more pleasant.  Even at this early stage, when Fenton's crush is unspoken (and Gandra's desire to have him be her steady is equally muted!), the two get along well.  Their subsequent relationship will have its bumps and bruises, but never will you get the feeling that Fenton is a fool for "putting up with" an "impossible" girlfriend.  Daisy, by contrast, won't achieve Gandra's level of likability until her Quack Pack makeover... and, even then, her amplified skill set won't compare with some of the abilities that Gandra will flash in future DT appearances.  Fenton seems to appreciate Gandra's qualities, as he tends to idolize her more comprehensively than Donald idolizes Daisy... a mindset which leads to its own set of problems, but that's another story (literally).

Fenton's discovery of Scrooge's ad leads us to the pair's first encounter in the Money Bin -- and the first of the serial's censored moments.  Fenton's persistent "pop-ups" are straight out of the Warner Bros. playbook and a clear indication that DuckTales plans to handle Fenton-centered humor in a "loosier and goosier" manner than was its usual first-season wont.  Between the half-digested "biz-buzzword-speak" and the OUT OF NOWHERE appearances in elevated windows -- to fully capiche the scene below, you need to remember that Scrooge's office is in the top floors of the Money Bin -- the Fenton of these scenes comes across as a peculiar mixture of Daffy Duck, Pinkie Pie, and a hyper-caffeinated Harold Lloyd.  No wonder Scrooge ultimately feels the need to resort to the blunderbuss.

The censoring of this scene actually begins before the gun is pulled.  Fenton's various yipes and shouts of "Let go!" as Scrooge and Mrs. Featherby are pulling him off Scrooge's desk were removed for syndication, leaving the run-up to take place in eerie silence.  Fenton finally begins talking again once he grabs onto the Venetian blinds, imploring Scrooge to "Gimme a shot!"...

... whereupon Scrooge replies "You got it!", yanks the blunderbuss off the wall and... um, fires it into the air?  Well, that was apparently enough for Toon Disney to mandate an immediate cut to the Crackshells' trailer-park home, lopping off the business of Fenton demonstrating his amazing counting abilities to Scrooge (first with the gun-pellets and then with a handful of change), Scrooge giving Fenton the accounting job, and Scrooge subsequently paying off some earlier jokes in the bean factory (and cutting off Fenton's celebration in mid-stride) by asking Fenton to repeat his name.  None of these excisions do essential damage to the narrative, but the shift to the trailer is awfully clumsy.  Then again, so is the offending shooting scene itself.  Perhaps the original scene should have been rewritten, with Fenton getting to display his talents after a struggling Scrooge has dropped the coins out of his pocket, or something similar.  Having Scrooge pull a gun on someone is only effective (even in a comedic sense) if there's evidence that Scrooge actually plans to use the gun with deadly effect by, you know, trying to HIT SOMEONE WITH THE SHOTS.  Even Elmer Fudd aimed his gun at Bugs Bunny, after all.

Fenton's homecoming introduces us to Mrs. Crackshell, the third leg of the "stool of ambition" on which Fenton sits... and the one that most clearly differentiates him from Donald.  There is nothing in Donald's life remotely akin to Fenton's desire to be a dutiful son to his lazy and frequently unappreciative "M'Ma" (the Disney Wiki's official spelling) who, in her occasional appearances in the serial, is almost totally rebarbative.  We never do learn what became of Fenton's father, but perhaps it's just as well.  Mrs. C.'s comment in "Full Metal Duck" about Mr. Crackshell thinking that she was "worthless" is accompanied by a sardonic laugh, which could mean any number of things, none of them pleasant.  The series will make several subsequent attempts to, in GeoX's words, "humanize her," and those attempts will be reasonably successful, but her debut performance in "SDT" started her off a sizable number of points in the red, and I'm sure that some folks never warmed up to her as a result. 

Following Fenton's eager, and borderline creepy, attempt to start his career as Scrooge's employee by acting as a sort of "Nega-Valet"...

 ... the other featured element from "Migrating Millions" makes its appearance, in the form of the "big machine" that Scrooge plans to use to move his Money Bin to its new mountaintop site.  There's no doubt that the design of the giant hauler was lifted straight from the final panel of Barks' story.  Even the tractor that Launchpad uses to "drive" (and crash) the thing is a direct copy.  Curiously, it is DT, and not Barks, that makes an effort to show exactly  HOW the giant building was lifted onto the hauler.  Granted, the sight raises more engineering questions than it answers, but credit must be given to the show for addressing the issue.

   Duck Gang... woo hoo!
Signed by Walt, but built by Carl, 
it's Duck Gang!  Woo hoo!

In order to secure land at a "rock-bottom" price, Scrooge falls for a cheesy Beagle Boy disguise for the umpteenth time.  Actually, the use of terrible disguises will prove to be a running theme in the serial as a whole, with the ruses being employed by the heroes as well as the villains.  I'd like to think that K&W were making a subtle point here about the contrast between image and reality, just as they did in the superb "Hero for Hire."  More likely, they were just exploiting the lazy writing tropes that inform a good deal of their later joint work.

After the literal-minded Fenton "makes [Scrooge's assets] liquid" by dumping them in a lake and Scrooge instructs the late-arriving, suspicious HD&L to provide security for his "camping trip" by putting up some Junior Woodchuck booby traps, you begin to get the feeling that, as The Phantom Blot and Louie would put it, "something weird is going on here."  At least, you do if you've read "Only a Poor Old Man."  Joe and I were initially pretty offended that the series would give such an historically significant Scrooge story -- the tale that, for all intents and purposes, established Scrooge as a starring character -- what we termed "slapdash and opportunistic treatment."  I still wish that the show could have displayed a bit more respect for "Poor Old Man," perhaps by affording the story a stand-alone ep of its own, but I've mellowed out a bit on the issue in the intervening years.  In stark contrast to their manhandling of "The Horseradish Story," Koonce and Weimers do give "Poor Old Man" numerous fair chances to speak for itself, including action sequences and dialogue drawn straight from the original.  These include the Beagle Boys' attempt to burn down the dam with a giant magnifying glass, which is met with cannon fire (successful in Barks' version, not so much when Fenton does the deed)...

... and the disguised Beagles' use of "termite-destroying" bugs that are actually "super termites" to fool the Ducks into planting the seeds of their own destruction, so to speak.
Even the scene in which Scrooge keeps the B-Boys' "trained cormorants" from pecking the dam apart by using "cormorant language" is afforded a nice tribute, in the form of Fenton using a whistle to attract termite-eating woodpeckers.  Here, K&W depart from "book" by turning the avian assault into the figurative "final coin that bursts the Money Bin"...
... and leads to the great dam-break, which can't help but be a bit underwhelming on the small screen when compared to Barks' classic half-page rendering of the event.  At least K&W used the moment in proper dramatic context, as a cliffhanger for the following episode.
Of course, all of these afflictions are brought about by Fenton's stubbornness and naivete, as opposed to Scrooge, Donald, and HD&L's own conscious actions.  Therein lies the major problem with this "semi-adaptation."  It's not so much the fact that Fenton causes the difficulties at Lake Dobegon as the fact that he sets up the whole business himself after he misinterprets the phrase "liquid assets."  Given the semi-digested nature of Fenton's cereal-box business "education," he could conceivably make such a mistake, but SOMEONE had to give the orders to move all of Scrooge's money to the lake... and I highly doubt that other McDuck employees would have executed such a massive transaction on the word of a guy who has only been on Scrooge's payroll for a day or so without asking some very pointed questions.  The idea of Scrooge giving such discretionary authority to a new hire is, quite frankly, ludicrous.  It would have been much more believable had Scrooge planned and managed the whole thing himself, as he did in the Barks story, only to have Fenton make the well-meaning errors that caused the dam to collapse.
There are several other ways in which K&W's handling of the "Poor Old Man" material is somewhat suboptimal.  Scrooge's masterminding of the scheme in Barks' adventure includes the active cooperation of HD&L (as well as Donald).  K&W make another misstep by having Scrooge fail to take the Nephews into his confidence from the start, leaving the boys to discover the truth by accident -- and, as a negative bonus, to help reveal the scheme to the spying Beagle Boys.  Given the number of times that the boys have aided Scrooge in the series alone, Scrooge should certainly have invested more trust in HD&L than that.  Instead, he relies on the inexperienced newbie Fenton to assist him... at least, until the (unnecessarily!) pissed-off HD&L come sneaking around to find some answers and are "bagged" by the bumbling bookkeeper.  This sequence was completely unnecessary and makes the Nephews seem bratty and both Fenton and Scrooge seem somewhat "mentally-impaired."

The Beagles' discovery of Scrooge's phony "fishing trip" points up K&W's third adaptation-related goof: At no point is it explained HOW or WHEN the Beagles came to such a conclusion.  Big Time's suspicions about Scrooge's "fish story" were presumably inspired by Barks' scene in which a stir-crazy Beagle leaves his frustrated brothers to go out and do some fishing of his own, only to stumble upon Scrooge's aqueous hiding-place:

Unfortunately, the last time we saw Big Time and his band of brothers was right after they had blown the Bin into their Ma's dooryard and found the money missing.  "Tax assessor" Scrooge then bamboozled Baggy into ceding possession of the Bin and directed Launchpad to drive the structure to "the other mountain I just bought" (how could LP be expected to accomplish that now that the Bin has been dislodged from its hauler?  Does LP habitually carry a steroid-infused winch in his back pocket?).  After returning to the lake, Scrooge then found that the boys had dredged up some of his cash and panicked in the time-honored manner, just in time for the Beagles to arrive and uncover the scheme... the potential nature of which they had been completely ignorant of until that moment.  The problems here could have been fixed easily enough by including a scene in which the Beagles resolve to search for the missing money and taking out Big Time's explicit reference to Scrooge doing some fishing.  Either an additional explanatory scene was removed, or story editors K&W let writers K&W down.   

I've come to forgive a number of "Liquid Assets"' sins, and I do applaud the episode for establishing Fenton's basic character and motivations in such a quick and efficient manner, but I can't wipe the ep's slate completely clean.  K&W definitely did a better job with the Barks borrowings here than they did in "Down and Out."  However, they could have benefited from one or two additional editorial "passes" through the script to clear out some of its more irrational elements and make Fenton slightly less of a central figure.  Overall, "Liquid Assets," like "Marking Time," gets its serial off to a pretty decent start... with the added bonus that Fenton already displays far more potential as a contributing character than did Bubba Duck.




Bumper 6: "Bronco, or, Old Gluefoot's Revenge"




Perhaps Michael Eisner should be listed as a co-starring character here?  As was his wont during the Magical World of Disney era, Eisner makes a live, video-taped appearance at the start of the original NBC broadcast.  Initially, it's literally rather hard to see who the real stars of the evening's entertainment are; Mike has a way of taking center stage...
The obligatory "fade-out gag" turns out to be a ride down the flume at Splash Mountain... and that's literally IT.  No gag about Scrooge's cheapness?  Not even an all-but-teed-up reference to the Ducks liking the water more than Eisner?  
(GeoX) Yeah, Fenton (who now has HIS own place in the opening sequence). Am I in danger of overrating the character just because he's not Bubba? Maybe, but he seems okay so far. It actually makes organic sense that Scrooge would need an accountant, even if it's not quite clear that Fenton would be as psychotically determined to get the job as he is. I mean, sure the bean-counting job may suck and all, but it still seems a bit much.  Still, I like his enthusiasm, and I like the fact that he's able to use it to sort of overwhelm Scrooge. It's a different character dynamic than we've seen in the past.

Agreed.  Donald's attempts to impress Scrooge, even as a "rival entrepreneur" of sorts (e.g. in Barks' "City of Golden Roofs"), always had an air of the dogged about them, whereas Fenton's actions occasionally border on the manic.  Then again, Rarity fantasized about meeting "Prince Charming" at Canterlot's Grand Galloping Gala and built a literal shrine to Trenderhoof.  It is easy to get wound up when you're pining after an ideal. 

(Greg)  We officially begin this story arc AFTER HAPPY HOUR (after dark) inside the chipmunk house and then we head inside as Big Time and Bouncer (with flashlight in hand) are tinkering on a table and wanting to fudge some blueprints it seems.

It may look like Bouncer -- especially in this opening sequence -- but it's actually Baggy.  The latter sort of "morphs" into Bouncer as the ep progresses.  As for Bankjob, he (along with Babyface and Bebop/Bugle) does make his final appearance in the series during the serial, but not in this particular venue. 

(Greg) Scrooge stands on the desk and shows the mayor the blueprints. The mayor no sells because the plan was approved months ago. How? The original plans were to NOT go straight through the Money Bin. If you cannot change the plans; then the Beagle Boys found a way. Logic break #1 for the episode barely three minutes in.

Well, I can easily imagine the Mayor being dense enough not to be familiar with the precise details of the highway plan.  I can think of other instances in which politicians approved bills without knowing what was in them... 

(Greg) Scrooge realizes that it's harder now since he has to move three cubic acres of liquid assets. And thus the episode card ironically enough. Louie thinks that it means there is a leak on the roof and Scrooge corrects him as another term meaning cash.

We'll have to keep track of HD&L's behavior throughout the second and third seasons, in order to judge the merits of the claim that they became sillier, less intelligent, and less ethical (dare I say, more Quack Pack-ish?  Yes, I do so dare.) in these later episodes.  They started off well enough in "Time is Money," apart from Dewey's brain-hiccup regarding how coal is formed into diamonds.  Let's just say that "Liquid Assets" doesn't show the boys at the top of their game and let it go at that... for now. 

(Greg) [Fenton] is voiced by the late Hamilton Camp.

Camp, of course, had a long and successful career as a live actor, voice actor, and folksinger.  Will he be best remembered for Fenton/Gizmoduck?

(Greg) [Fenton] goes to the lamp post and reads a wooden sign that states that help is wanted as Scrooge McDuck needs an accountant.

Note Scrooge's "I Want You" pose on the poster.  BTW, isn't that a rather strange place in which to advertise such a prestigious position?  Sure, I'd be more than happy to hire someone who'd frequent the dimly-lit rear of a factory in what appears to be a slightly run-down neighborhood...

(Greg) Fenton shows [his mother] the cake and party flavors as the woman on the television is Millionair[a] Vanderbucks. HAHA! So she has become an actor now after the aborted Scrooge merger. As they say; if you can act and look good; you go to Duckywood. AHHAHAHAHAHA! 

It's actually the Duchess of Swansylvania from "Hotel Strangeduck."  It won't be her only appearance on the Crackshell telly, either.  In truth, I could sooner imagine Millionaira Vanderbucks being desperate enough to turn to acting (in the hope, I would imagine, that she can convince some stalwart young actor to marry her) than I could the Duchess and her brother Ludwing screwing up their business partnership with Scrooge and being forced to go out and earn their own living.


I suspect that someone at Wang Films was having some funsies at our expense, just as they were when they threw the "can of tuna" into the Gizmoduck-encasement scene in "Frozen Assets."  Admittedly, there IS a big difference between a few frames' worth of animatorial indulgence and the (almost literally) in-your-face nature of the binoculars business.  But what K&W could possibly be trying to prove by giving such a gag such extended exposure, I couldn't begin to tell you.  Toto, I don't think that we're in the Valley of the Golden Suns anymore... 

(Insert off-color joke here)

(Greg) Louie is throwing money into the air. Scrooge wants answers to this outrage and takes the bucket into the jaw with a pretty decent shot. OUCH! That is going to loosen some teeth. He gets knocked silly complete with stars as Dewey shows his big ass bucket of cash. Scrooge is pissed off as he wants the treasure thrown back into the lake as it is supposed to be buried. Well; you could have, I don't know TOLD THEM THAT Scroogie.

As Fenton would put it: Bingo!

(Greg) ...we go to the scene changer as Bouncer and Burger dress up Big Time into some fool as Big Time declares that this cannot miss. They give him a jar of pink jellybeans (It seems that way) and he runs on the dam's top (I see it gained about a foot wide since we last saw it) as Fenton is doing some REALLY STUPID poses with the blunderbuss. Fenton notices the Big Time Fly and gets in front of him holding the blunderbuss to his kisser. Fenton demands answers to what is wrong with this picture as Big Time Fly explains that he is a pest inspector and that the damn is infested with termites.

Several of the shots of Fenton waving the blunderbuss around and pointing it in the general direction of the disguised Big Time were clipped out by Toon Disney, along with as a snippet or two of his dialogue (having to do with questioning BT over what the latter is doing there).  There seems to be even less reason for censorship here than there was with Scrooge; Fenton doesn't fire the thing, and his antics make the scene seem silly more than anything else.

Next: Episode 72, "Super DuckTales, Part Two: Frozen Assets."